Sunday, June 7, 2020

Raghu,a boy of a different mettle



Raghuram, Raghu in short, was a class mate of mine in seventh standard in my younger days. I have forgotten most of the other boys but I still remember distinctly his face for the prominent beak shaped nose. He was slightly built and had a constant puckered smile on his soft face. He never talked unless spoken to and rarely mingled with others. He did not participate in sports. He was happy to be left alone to his devices. He wore his caste mark prominently on his face. He was not distinguished in his studies. Except in Sanskrit, history and moral sciences, he had no interest in other subjects. He just scraped through, I think.
I remember one incident when the class teacher asked us to write in one page of what we wished to be when we grew old. Some of us wrote about our wish to be engineers, while some wanted to be teachers and some others business men or lawyers and such like callings. When the boys were discussing excitedly among themselves, Raghu stood aside alone without showing any interest.
We did not know that Raghu was different from us till the afternoon. We came to know when the teacher called him softly by his side and asked him to tell the class on what he wished to be. He kept quiet feeling embarrassed. The teacher goaded him telling that there was nothing to feel shy about and that he was proud to be his teacher.
Thus prompted, the boy said, “I wish to be a monk and recede to forest to meditate on my God and do Tapasya till I have His darshan.” There was a disbelief and stunned silence even as the boys saw the teacher wiping his tears from his eyes.
The teacher wondered at the serendipitous discovery and felt that this deep devotion and serene detachment from worldly ways of the boy’s age were not common possessions. Least of all are they to be found in a teen aged school boy. Later after the class was over, the teacher patted Raghu gently on his shoulder and told him “Will you take me along with you to meet your parents this evening. I wish to pay my obeisance to the fortunate couple.”
Raghu immediately implored “Sir, please do not mention about this essay of mine to them. They are already unhappy with me about my poor marks and my ways.”
“Why are you not studying well? You score well in Sanskrit and a few other subjects but seem to neglect important subjects. What is it that you do to displease your parents? Should you not listen to them?” he gently asked.
Raghu said, “Excuse me if I am in the wrong. I am a great devotee of Sri Ramachandra and Sri Anjaneya swami. I have their idols and do puja both mornings and evenings. I do not know why but I wish to do nothing else except thinking of my Lord. My father is against all these as he considers them a waste of time to the detriment of my studies and  future. He wants me to stop all this and go out to play with other boys. He beats me if he sees me sitting before my darling idols. So I have hidden them in the terrace and do the puja unknown to him. My mom knows but she does not dissuade me.”
The teacher kept silent and later learnt from his parents that what all he had stated was true. Both the parents were dejected and had given up hopes of ‘reforming’ the boy. He did not mingle with his siblings except a little with mom and spent all the waking hours before the idols and deriving pleasure in dressing them and singing bhajans praising their glories.
The teacher knew that the great Acharya Sankara himself pleaded with his mother at the age of seven to allow him to renounce the world. Coming to our own time, a twelve-year-old Ramana felt a spiritual tug in his heart strings that set him forth on his spiritual journey. In the instant case too, the teacher perceived an uncommon boy who had a rare spiritual hunger and deep devotion to Lord Ram and who gave all his unwavering attention and time praying to Him in the hope of having His darisan. The teacher kept quiet as he knew that it was best not to interfere with the boy’s ‘spiritual progress’ only to safeguard his parental wishes.
Years had gone by. I lost touch with Raghu after I came out of the school but the essay incident in the school remained etched in my mind. It was some decades later I accidentally met his younger brother who was also then studying in the same school.
I learnt that Raghu did his graduation in Sanskrit and did not marry. He became a Sanskrit pundit in a school. He had not changed a bit except that his devotion grew intense. He did not become a sanyasin or wore ochre robes. After his parents died, he stayed alone and had his food brought from a nearby temple on payment. He spent all his leisure hours in a religious Mutt, assisting them in their activities and tending to the sick and needy persons. No one knew what puja he did and when. He lived a life of recluse and did not participate in family functions. He gave away his share of the property to charitable institutions. The last the brother heard about Raghu was that he lived in a temple town spending his remaining days in the temple. He preferred solitude and discouraged any contact with him. He had obviously discovered his real identity, knew his true nature and felt the presence of Supreme spirit in everything and everywhere.
I chose to visit the same temple soon hoping to see him. Yes, I could see him sitting in a corner near Anjaneya shrine and went near him with folded hands. He had grown a beard, looked emaciated but the puckered smile was intact. I could see his penetrating eyes that seemed at once far away and distant as he saw me. When I introduced myself, there was no display of emotion or flicker of eyes but total silence with no hint of recognition. I wondered whether he was in a state of trance, Samadhi. I was convinced that he is no ordinary soul. He has turned an evolved person who belonged to this world and yet not part of it. Life for him was a voyage that he had to undertake to liquidate his past karmic debts. Involuntarily I fell at his feet before leaving with my eyes moist and throat choked with emotions. That was the last I saw him.
Fully conscious that such divine grace does not come by to all, I could only proudly tell my children and grandchildren that I had the privilege of studying together with a karma yogi who had realised himself.
The winds of grace are always blowing; it is for us to raise our sails.”


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Homage


(A story written 11 years back have not been read by many current readers).
Venkat was in class seven. He was taking regular tuition from his Sanskrit teacher as his father wanted him to become proficient in that language. He went to his master’s house in the evenings to learn. His teacher was dark complexioned, frail and small built man in his early forties. His teeth were not aligned properly and he had a dangling tuft in the unkempt hair that was not tied properly. His face always bristled with unshaven hair. He was on the whole an unattractive person. But he was a great scholar of gentle disposition and soft in words. One rarely saw him smile. He had a soft corner for Venkat as he was studious and excelled soon in Sanskrit.
The teacher’s wife slightly taller than him, very fair and was exceptionally beautiful. Slightly plump with a twinkle in her eyes, she was always well dressed and appeared graceful in her deportment. She must have been younger by more than ten years to the teacher. She too liked Venkat very much, called him Venky affectionately and gave him often some delicacies to eat while running her hand over his head.
Venkat found that his teacher was always morose and lost in thought when he was with him teaching Sanskrit in the evenings. The lady would be watching TV serials or reading some film magazines or novels. He had not seen them talking much with each other. There was always a constricted atmosphere in the house. But when the teacher was not around, Venkat could see her happily laughing and playing with him or with the small babies from the adjoining houses. Venkat felt that the couple did not get along well as they had no children of their own.
The teacher had a strange habit of forgetting to bring something or the other to the school. He would send Venkat almost daily to his house during the day at no fixed hours asking him to bring a book, a pen or lunch box. When he returned he used to pat him and ask him whether he saw anyone in the house. Venkat would reply that he saw none as auntie always gave the article through the window. It appeared to the boy that the teacher was not satisfied with his reply. Months flew by but the routine remained unchanged.
One afternoon when Venkat went to the house, he did not knock the door as he usually did but peeped in through the window that was not fully closed. To his great shock, he saw an uncle reclined on the lap of auntie and both of them laughing about something. Venkat quietly withdrew and knocked the door and asked for the book the teacher had forgotten. As usual she did not open the door but gave him the book through the window before closing it fully.
Venkat was confused whether to tell the teacher or not. To his young mind it struck for the first time that auntie was not good. He started disliking her but did not tell the teacher what he saw. He felt sad for some unknown reason for his teacher. Nevertheless, he chose to peep through the window thereafter whenever there was a vent before knocking the door. He found the same uncle frequently in the house hugging the auntie or caressing her till one day the auntie found out the peeping Tom.
She pushed the man aside and came running to Venkat highly excited asking him how long he was there. Venkat pretended that he had just come and gave no indication of what he saw. She did not appear convinced of what he told her. She said she was afraid thinking that a stranger was peeping when she was alone in the house. She asked him to wait and brought a box full of chocolates. She told him after giving the box that she liked him very much and that he should not peep in future. On his way to the school Venkat threw the box in disgust into the garbage bin.
It was a week after this incident one day when he came to the school in the morning, he found all the teachers standing outside in groups talking in hushed tones with many boys milling around. Sensing something amiss he went near them only to learn that his beloved Sanskrit master had committed suicide in the early hours of the day.
The teachers were all discussing what could be the reason for him to take this extreme step of hanging at this young age. He had no worries financial or otherwise and seemed happily married to a charming wife. What more one could want? True he had no children but these days so many people adopt children. None were wiser for the reason the gentle teacher chose to inflict upon himself this ultimate and irreversible punishment.
Tears trickled from Venkat’s eyes. But he was determined to remain quiet to keep his revered teacher’s fair name and dignity unsullied by lowly gossip.



Monday, June 1, 2020

The shrew


Parvatha Vilas, a palatial building on a six ground plot, large and imposing was rightly named after the lady of the house, Parvatham. You might have not known her but you must have certainly seen Khubsoorat with Dina Pathak and Rekha playing admirably well the  important roles in it. The lady of the house in the film was a no-nonsense, nose upturned type with no trace of smile in her face. Her writ ran large in the house and her wishes were commands strictly obeyed by all members of her family. The character in our story is no different but even slightly worse than that
Tall and heavily built, with a stentorian voice and hawk like eyes, Parvatham never took a No for an answer. She brooked no dissent and went into rage at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction to her diktats. Hers was a large and affluent joint family of five daughters and three sons. Three daughters were married and two of them live separately close by. One married daughter continued to live with her family at her parent’s place. The three sons who were all married continued to live in the house with their wives and children.
Subramania iyer, a capable lawyer with lucrative practice, while at home was a timid man with shifty eyes and of small build. He had stopped practicing since two years. Most thought he was henpecked but he believed in the dictum discretion is better than valour. He knew all his renowned communication skills and knowledge were of little avail against the harsh-tempered termagant. That she was disagreeable and evoked more fear than respect among her children, husband and servants is a fact none disputed. The evening dinner when all assembled as a rule was more a silent ritual of filling the stomachs than the bonhomie of family members eating together, exchanging good natured banters and laughing around the dining table.
Parvatham always decided what should be the daily menu giving scant regard for individual preferences, what dress to be bought for whom and what dress to be worn on what occasions, what courses the children should take in their colleges, what time the TV can be on and what serials can be seen by whom. The younger daughters and the grandchildren never liked her autocratic ways and detested her habit of checking their mobiles unseen or refusing permission for granddaughters to go out with boyfriends and insisting they are back home for dinner. She was in short a terror in the house running it at her will and whims. She was no doubt a well-intentioned lady though and being the only daughter in her house, pampered and spoilt, she grew to be a shrew. One gets somewhat the scenario of the house, if one can remember Mrs. Trunchbull of the movie Matilda.
Of late, she suffered from memory loss and would repeat the same instructions again and again. She would rebuke the servants for not carrying out her orders that had already been complied with. But she would strongly deny that she suffered even a trace of amnesia and none argued with her for fear of her foul mouth. The doctor suspected signs of onset of dementia though she managed her chores on her own. Nevertheless, her forgetfulness caused concern and fear to all.
 It was on one such day when family members had gone to a function at relative’s place. When they returned in the evening, Parvatham was not to be seen. The servants had no clue when and how she went out of the house. Even the security at the gate had callously missed her slipping out unseen. Everyone scurried hither and thither searching for her in all rooms and neighbourhood. She was not to be found. They phoned and went out searching for her amongst friends and relatives but could gather no useful information.
The next day they lodged a police complaint for missing person. Two or three days had elapsed with no news about her whereabouts. But there was a total metamorphosis in the atmosphere at the house. One could hear shouts, peals of laughter, happy guffaws and joyful screams with many running about without fear of reprimand. The old man was before the TV watching WWF wrestling matches nonstop alternating in between to cricket and tennis. One could hear the buzz of mobiles nonstop. The dining table got totally a different fare with several items to suit individual tastes. TVs were installed in many rooms. They took the plates and watched TV sitting on sofas that was earlier strictly forbidden. They got up late, took bath whenever it pleased them. There was a total laissez-faire or anarchy depending on the way you look at it. There was a sense of freedom all around though they inwardly missed the old lady and pangs of sadness were felt.
At the suggestion of the old man, an advertisement with her photo was inserted in the popular dailies both English and Tamil.. Within two days, they received a call from a senior home.
“Sir, I am the Secretary calling from ABC senior home. Three days back some people who found her loitering aimlessly in the vicinity brought her here in the night. She seemed a decent looking rich lady from the jewelry worn. She could not answer our questions properly or realize her predicament. Luckily we saw the advertisement today. We wish you to take her away immediately. She is threatening all and ordering about the other inmates as if she owned this place. We understand that she is not alright. However, we are not running the place free. We collect 15000pm from each. We cannot keep her free here. Please come and take her immediately.”
The son who attended the call said to others who crowded around him, “Mom is safe at a senior home. She is suffering from amnesia but it seems her old imperious ways have not left her. They want her to be taken away immediately as it is a paid home for senior citizens at Rs15000 pm.”
There was some silence. One of the sons nudged by his wife spoke, “Mom is not well. We had problem even when she was in full possession of faculties. Now with signs of dementia, I shudder. Why not allow her to continue there? We can pay whatever money they want including the salary of an exclusive maid for her. We can visit her by turn regularly.”
The eldest daughter-in-law said, “We all like her though she acted as a Mother Superior of a strict convent. Let her stay there for some time for her own benefit and we can take a call later.”
When the son who took the call found there was no objection from others, he spoke to the secretary to tell him,” We will give you a ring shortly. Please wait”
“We cannot wait. We can keep her with us in our assisted living block on a fee of Rs. 20000 pm covering the expense of a maid also. Three months’ fee must be paid in advance along with a small deposit. If this is not acceptable, we shall send her by ambulance after lunch. Please convey the decision in five minutes,” said the Secretary.
There was another round of hushed confabulations and everyone looked at the old man after explaining that house now bore the atmosphere of a home instead of a hostel earlier and they be allowed to enjoy the freedom and peace for some more time.
Like the Oracle, the old man finally gave his ruling. “Let it not be mistaken that we have no affection or concern for Parvatham. She loved us so much that she was willing to bear the cross of being disliked by all. But it is a fact that she tread on the corns of everyone here. The house is now wearing a joyful atmosphere after years of stuffed feeling. She is also not physically and mentally well and needs some rest which I am sure this house cannot offer. Although the secretary’s words that he would send her here in ambulance smacks of black mail, we will not succumb to such threats. We would on our own accord allow her to stay in the Senior home for six months initially. We can take a call at the end of the period. Each one of you should promise to visit her frequently. Tell the Secretary accordingly and give a cheque for six months’ fee.”
There was great rejoicing accompanied by dancing to which the old man said “This is not becoming of us. We really miss her.”




Saturday, May 30, 2020

Doubly blessed


(The readers are informed in advance  not to expect any twist or mystery end. This is a story of the sincere prayers of a devout couple answered)
It was a narrow dusty lane crowded with people, erratically moving cattle, and small vehicles inching their way. It was not much tiresome for the Gujarati couple to wade through this as the distance to Banke Bihari temple was short and the early November weather was pleasant. They let a sigh of relief as they reached the entrance to Radhe Krishna temple.
Urmila told her husband Pankaj Desai,” I am excited to be here at last. I have been dreaming of a visit to this famous temple for many years. I sincerely hope Lord Krishna here known for His beauty and expressive eyes would turn His merciful eyes on us and grant us our long awaited wish.”
“Surely He would, I have no doubt. I am also thrilled like you to be here. The crowd inside the temple seems unmanageable and I wish we get a close darshan,” Pankaj replied.
Once they presented themselves at the entrance, the milling crowd took over pushing them from all sides to present them in front of the deity. It was a great ordeal. But what a mesmerizing experience it was looking at the idol that was at once incredibly charming and indescribable in words. In the few moments they could manage to stand, they prayed devoutly for a child that was denied to them for almost eight years. As she was praying with bent head, a garland that was thrown by the priest fell on her. Overjoyed by this good omen the couple happily came out of the temple.
All the way up to the end of the lane where their car was parked, mendicants were pestering them for alms which they generously gave. As they were walking briskly free of beggars at the end of lane towards the car, they espied an ash smeared old man in ochre robes with flowing beard smiling at them and blessing them with raised hands. As he made no demand and his personality evoked an instant respect, they moved near him and bent down with folded arms.
He blessed the couple with raised hands and remarked with a smile, “I know the object of your visit. It will be fulfilled by Banke Bihari soonest but I can also foresee your getting much earlier a Mahalakshmi.”
Confused about the import of his strange statement and yet happy, they prostrated before him and gave him 500 rupees. He broke into loud laughter and said, “Don’t you see I have renounced all material possessions. I do not need your money. Go home happily and accept the joyous things as they come to you.” he said abruptly standing up and walking away towards the temple to be lost in the crowd. The visage of the saintly man lingered for a long time.
On the second day the couple came to New Delhi station to board the Swarna Jayanthi Rajdhani express to Ahmedabad leaving around 8pm. They had come earlier to the station by 6.30 pm. As they were waiting in the platform for the train to be placed, they heard a commotion behind them with several passengers and onlookers crowded just a few yards behind them. Pankaj went near to know what the furor was about. He found a two year old baby girl crying aloud calling “Ma, ma” and plucking the sari of a young woman lying on a bench. There was no movement from her and it was a pathetic sight to see the crying child. One porter in the crowd came forward and shook her shoulder to wake her up only to find her inert with the head falling on its side. He felt the nostrils and said to no one in particular, ”margaya.” One doctor who happened to be in the crowd examined her eyes and the chest with stethoscope and pronounced her dead. A gloom fell on the assembled people.
The pitiable baby was still trying to wake her mother by clutching at her hand and sari. The baby was very cute and looked from her dress as hailing from a middle class family. The woman about 28 was also well dressed and evidently came to the station to board the train from the box placed beside her. There seemed none else accompanying them.
A railway police inspector rushed to the spot and took stock of the situation. He asked the crowd whether anyone knew her. The box was opened and its contents rummaged to see whether her identity could be established. Only a ticket to Ahmedabad by Rajdhani was available. There was no evidence to reveal her identity and there was strangely no mobile phone too.
Meanwhile Urmila dragging their two boxes came near Pankaj. The baby was wailing seeing the surrounding crowd of men. With motherly instincts surging, Urmila held the baby in her arms against her chest and patted it gently. To the great relief of the depressed crowd, it broke into a smile. Urmila looked at Pankaj with a meaningful smile.
Pankaj Desai told the inspector whom he took a little away,” I am a reasonably well to do businessman from Ahmedabad. Here is my card. We came to Brindavan to pray for a child. I have a humble suggestion to make for your consideration. Till such time someone comes forward to claim the baby legally that she is related to them, let her be with us. I will take care of her as if she is God’s present to us. I am well known in my locality. You can talk to the SHO to check the veracity of my statement. If no one comes forward to claim, I wish to adopt the baby complying with legal requirements. The baby as you can see is already attached to my wife.”
The Inspector gave instructions to have the body removed to a hospital for post mortem and took Pankaj and Urmila with him to the outpost in the station.” Do not worry. I will have it in writing from you. I will talk to SHO of your area now on face time and ask him to identify you. I feel a loving home is better for the baby than a destitute home and you both are wanting one to fill joy in your family. Still I need to take the approval of my boss. If necessary, you may have to cancel the journey and depart after a day or two. We will still try to rush it through before the departure time. Give me copies of your adhaar if you carry with you or from the photos in your mobile. But all these are subject to the condition, the moment someone comes up having a better claim, we may ask you to personally come here to return the child if we decide in his favour. I feel it unlikely though.”
Pankaj looked at his wife Urmila, who told him instantly, “Don’t you remember what the Sant told us and that we should accept whatever comes in our way and she would be a Mahalakshmi?” This clinched the issue.
The energetic inspector managed things so efficiently and quickly, the couple could get into the train with the baby in the nick of its departure.
Predictably Urmila in a few months was expecting a baby, firm in the belief that Banke Bihari had answered their prayers in His infinite mercy. The little girl was aptly named Mahalakshmi. True to her name, she brought with her great prosperity and happiness in the family with Pankaj Desai’s business growing by leaps and bounds. As there were no claimants, Desais legally adopted baby Mahalakshmi in a grand and gala celebration.


Friday, May 22, 2020

True happiness


(This is a story written about 12 years back and not read much. I hope you will like it.)
I have always liked Saturday afternoons with the prospect of a weekend to relax and enjoy with wife and children. I was still at the office waiting for a report from my steno to be sent up that day itself. It was then Raghav, my longtime friend and colleague, entered my room and plunged into the sofa.
“Pacha, I need an hour of your time to discuss some personal matter of utmost importance. Please do not refuse,” he pleaded.”
“Yes, tell me,” I said though I wished to leave office early to take my wife and children to Cream Center for ice cream.
“Please listen carefully as I am in a deep dilemma and need your advice. I do not want to beat around the bush. Shocking as it may be to you, it is real. I have fallen in deep love with Omana who works in the office opposite to ours. The nub of the problem is both of us are married with children from our own marriages,” he was saying when I intervened to say, “My God, how could you be so foolish…”
 He stopped me, “Please do not interrupt. I will answer all your questions after I have finished.”
“Proceed,” I said
“It all started with our meeting casually at the canteen at the mezzanine floor or at the restaurants nearby. Though hesitant initially, we were so mesmerized in each other’s company, we gradually threw caution to winds and got intimate and went frequently on one day outings. She had mentioned once that her husband was a sickly person and that she was not happy with him. I must admit frankly since we fell in love, our lives turned brighter and the days were more exciting than the drab ones we led earlier. Not a day including some Sundays passed without our meeting,” he paused to drink cold water.
 I have not failed to notice that he dressed well these days and his hair groomed at regular intervals. Earlier he paid scant attention to his personal appearance. But these days there was a spring in his walk that I used to wonder why this transformation. I have also seen his desk with files mounting on it while he kept talking endlessly on mobile or leaving the office early. However, I never spoke to him about it, I could now connect the background behind these changes.
“Pacha, I know you would not approve of this but I am madly in love with Omana Not that I dislike my wife Deepa but I love this girl more and cannot shake her from my mind. She is extremely beautiful and graceful in her deportment. You must see her once to understand my predicament. My guilty conscience pricks me no end when I see my trusting Deepa in the nights. Sadly, for her, I am too far in this relationship to retrace.”
“Does your wife know?” I asked.
He said “No, though she keeps asking me why I work late in office almost daily and also attend on Sundays. Poor thing, she doesn’t know. I am really at my wit’s end how to tell her now that I have decided to separate from her. She loves me so much that she cannot realize that I have lost interest in her. This is eating me day and night. I know all the complications it would cause in both families and I do not want you to dissuade me. Can you advise me only on how Omana and I can live together permanently and openly”?
“To me this action of yours is morally abominable and socially reprehensible. Have you considered about the young children and their future? I do not think your wife is working. You and the object of your infatuation will be a laughing stock in your respective social circles. I cannot preclude legal problems too if one of the aggrieved spouses take up the matter apart from the large financial implications. I need time to think about this and have no readymade solution to offer. Do not do anything rash till I revert. I have promised my children to take them out today. Give me some time to think,” I said without concealing my disappointment.
After fun time at bowling alleys with children and dinner with ice cream at Cream Centre, we returned home. That night, I looked at my wife who was sleeping by my side. She had put on weight, had grown a little old and there were strands of grey hair which she did not seek to hide by colouring. There were black rings below her eyes and new wrinkles that I had not noticed few months before. She appeared nevertheless as beautiful and charming as she was when I met her first. She didn’t mind my going out for a binge of beer with my friends or playing bridge at the club on some Saturday nights. She kept herself busy teaching the kids and looking after the house in ever so many ways. Our love for each other was intact and not a whit reduced. We did have our bouts of fun and tiffs too adding spice to our lives.
On Sundays I would get the breakfast from a nearby restaurant making her stay in the bed for longer. Once in a while I would lend a helping hand in making the lunch. She loved pizza with its varied dressings. I never relished them. Whenever we went out for eating, she would always order things that I relished most like lasagna or Chinese noodles. When I press her to have pizza she would decline telling that she had it the day before at her friend’s place. But there would be surprises of unannounced pizza deliveries in the afternoons for her. She never complained or went to another room for sleeping despite my heavy snoring. She put up with my tantrums when I fail to find my car-keys or socks or mobile.
I was no less considerate to her. Having come from a large family, she never knew to cook just the quantity our small family needed. She did not have the heart to pour the excess down the drain immediately. Instead to salve her conscience, she would store the left over in the large fridge for a couple of days before discarding them. I knew my budget on food can be cut by half but I never made a fuss. She had no interest to acquire fine dresses and was satisfied with simple material. I had to take the help of my cousin to buy fine party dresses and surprise her. It was a case of each one trying to make the other feel comfortable and we found love in abundance between us despite the passing years.
Within ten days after Raghav’s confession, I was returning from an official tour when I saw Raghav in the airport. I requested him to accompany me in my car, have a cup of tea at my house and get dropped later at his place.
When we reached my home, my little daughter of six years came running towards me greeting, “Appa, you are back. I am so happy.” I lifted her bodily and smothered her face with smooches before I let her down. I gave her a box of Sandesh of assorted varieties from my bag.
My son of ten years was standing shyly and I went near him and patted him on his back asking him “How are you, young man? Who took the maximum wickets in today’s ODI?” He snuggled by my side happily.
He replied,” Appa I missed your company while watching cricket. You missed Rohit Sharma at his best.” I gave him a sleek pen set to his great joy.
Then it was the turn of my wife. She was standing at a distance as my friend was present. I dragged her towards me and embraced her tightly saying, “Ignore this chap. He doesn’t know how to lead a joyous life”. Even as she was struggling to get out of my cuddle, I planted a couple of kisses on her forehead to her great embarrassment and my friend’s mirth.
My friend asked me “How long were you away on tour?”
I said just one night. I could see he was stunned by the look on his face and the unbelief that a day’s absence could bring such intense and loving greeting.
Later when we were alone sipping tea, I told him” You asked my advice about your problem. I have one to give if you care to follow. Keep away from Omana for a month with no contact whatsoever and spend the time with Deepa and your children as you saw us here today. Give your wife all the love and the children your affection. Have fun and take them out frequently and smother them with small gifts. Just do this for one month. If you still feel at the end of the month, your passion for Omana is unabated, you do what pleases you. But you owe Deepa this much for her trusting nature and loving you since day one.”
He agreed. As I expected, the togetherness with Deepa and the flush of warmth at home did the magic. It was a month later that he told me that he had told Omana that they break off the relationship as he could not leave his wife and children. I was not surprised that within a month, he sought a transfer to another metro and moved with family.
I was happy he recognized that for love to sustain and grow there must be mutual trust and reciprocity- it is not a one-way street.


Monday, May 18, 2020

Lost and found


Govindu was born seven years after Vanaja’s marriage after intense prayers at all famous temples. Venkatesan, her husband, was a trader in hardware and paints. They showered all affection and pampered the boy meeting every wish of his. He was put in good school with all fanfare and was studying in class 7 The boy aged 14 was playful and had no interest in studies. He played truant from classes frequently and was at the bottom of his class and the report card indicated that he was absent for almost forty percent of the working days. Govindu did not show the report card that mentioned about his poor presence and performance to his parents
The alert teacher sent word with a duplicate card through another boy. Venkatesan had high ambitions and set much store by the boy. He was furious when he saw the progress report. More than the poor marks with all of them in single digits, he was worried about the boy’s truancy. He was afraid he may fall into bad company and develop undesirable habits. He hit the boy with a cane repeatedly despite his wife’s screams to stop it. He told her firmly before leaving for the shop not to give the boy any food for the day or allow him to go to play. Vanaja tried to pacify the boy and applied fomentation on the injury. He shouted at her and locked the door of his room.
In the evening around five, when she went to knock the door, she found it open with no trace of Govindu. She searched in vain and called her husband over phone. Despite all efforts the boy could not be traced. Police also was not able to find him. Days passed by with the mother always crying and the father regretting his rash behaviour. The boy had just disappeared. Months and years flew by. Venkatesan lost his interest in his business. They commenced again their pilgrimage to all temples for god’s grace to get back their boy.
They were travelling in the three tier compartment to Mathura and Brindavan in the North. The train had halted at Nagpur station. Vanaja was looking outside the window at the station that was heavily crowded with hawkers shouting to sell their wares. Chaiwallahs and orange sellers kept coming and asking her. She always nursed the fond hope that one day she can see Govindu. But luck was not on her side. The train started moving slowly. She started crying and Venkatesan patted her telling others are watching her.
When she was going towards toilet she saw at the entrance to the compartment, a boy of Govindu’s age looking away from the corridor polishing someone’s shoe He had long hair that almost covered his face and was in very dirty dress. There was also an equally dirty shawl wrapped over him covering the head. It was cold outside the train. As her attention was on the boy, she did not notice a server from the canteen bringing tomato soup. He collided against her and she fell down on the boy. The boy was stunned but recovered soon and lent a helping hand to lift Vanaja.
The moment she saw the boy, she let out a shriek and wailed” Govindu, Govindu, my dear boy, what is this? I am seeing you in such a pathetic state”
Holding the boy in her arms she implored him “Govindu, please come home. I miss you so much. We swear upon god that we will never scold or beat you. If you are not willing to study, it is fine. You may sit with appa and learn the trade. My darling Govindu, please call me amma once.” The boy gave her a surprised look.
 Venkatesan on hearing the commotion ran towards her. He saw the boy and asked him his name in Tamil. When he blinked, he asked him in Hindi his name.
“Ï am Tiwari Saab,” he replied in Hindi. Venkatesan was also struck by the striking similarity with his son and knew Govindu had a big mole on his lobe of the right ear. As the head was covered with shawl, Venkatesan pulled the shawl and the young boy fell down hurting his head. When he started wailing, the co-passengers remonstrated with Venkatesan not to touch the boy or be rough. The boy wailed in fluent Hindi complaining about Venkatesan’s unprovoked attack. Highly embarrassed, he left the boy alone.
Venkatesan told Vanaja,"Look, the boy seems a North Indian  speaking Hindi, not our Govindu," and gently led her towards their seats. Deeply shocked and disappointed, she started crying inconsolably. In a short while, when she looked around, she saw all the co passengers looking at her with sympathy and some even with misty eyes.
Something must have snapped in her when she suddenly  broke into hysterical laughter much to the shock of Venkatesan amid the concerned looks of the other passengers. Venkatesan realized he had now a new and different problem to pray for to god for His grace.
As the train started moving fast, the boy holding the polishing kit on his shoulder on the platform, stood watching the fast receding compartment mumbling to himself  and wiping his eyes, “Sorry Amma, I could feel the warmth of your love and affection for me when you held me for a brief moment. I have now become a wastrel and fallen deep into very bad company involved in all vices. I have become unworthy of your love and can never fit in as your son to bask in your affection. I will try sincerely to wriggle safely out of this dangerous ring to mend my ways and return to you as your good son. Kindly forgive me, I love you."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Meena's ransom

“I need some money urgently. There is practically no balance in my account,” said Meena.”
“How much? I gave you the usual amount at the beginning of the month,” replied Kesav who was leisurely sipping the morning tea in the balcony with a newspaper on hand.
“15000 rupees. Due to this Covid virus, I have bought more than the usual quantity of groceries and various other items, “said Meena as she placed her cup on the side table.
“For all the extra things you have been buying, you have been using my card. Have you forgotten or what? “he asked in a surprised manner.
“May be, I have not kept track of all these but the fact is my account is having no balance. I need the money urgently,” she replied with some acerbity.
“What for? What is the urgent requirement?” asked Kesav.
“I do not need your money if I am asked to give account as if I am your accountant. When you spend heavily, do I ever ask you any question? “she asked angrily.
“Am I obliged to explain you how I spend my earnings? Funny you make a statement like that,” he said somewhat amused.
 “Enough, I feel I have no dignity in this house after I left my lucrative job in deference to your wishes. Keep your earnings with you. I am going presently to my mother’s place. I may return only late afternoon. You cook something for yourself,” she said as she left in a huff without heeding his plea to sit.
It was past 12 and he was dozing on the sofa after eating the hurriedly made pasta. The TV was on narrating the latest statistics on Covid19. His mobile rang loudly and it was a call from Meena.
“Meena, are you still angry? I hope you had no problem in reaching your amma’s place<” asked Kesav
“Sorry Sir, this is not your wife. I have borrowed her phone for a while. I am sorry to disturb you on an important matter,” said the voice
“Who is speaking? How did you get my wife’s phone? Where is she?” asked Kesav anxiously.
“My name does not matter. Your wife is very much here beside me. Are you Kesav?” asked the voice in a gruff tone.
“I am Kesav. What is it you want? Tell me right away where you are speaking from? How did my wife come there?Can you give the phone to her?” he asked in commanding manner.
“You would not talk to me in this tone if you hear what I wish to say,” said the voice in other end and continued, “ The matter relates to your wife. She is presently safe in my custody. There is a small matter to be settled between us before she is released. It does not brook any delay  if you keep in mind the well being of your good looking wife,”
“Tell me quickly,” urged Kesav.
“Transfer 25000 rupees to your wife’s account this moment.I find it has no money. You must thank your stars that I have not made a large demand. This should be done within 10 minutes. I will release her within five minutes after I get the message of credit in her mobile. Exactly 10 minutes I give you," and added
"One word of warning. Do not try to be smart tracing my whereabouts or thinking of police if you wish her to remain unharmed in any manner. Remember the deadline Do you understand the gravity of the situation?” said the voice as the call was cut.
He transferred the money immediately and sent a message about the remittance. He was filled with remorse for not complying with her request in the morning itself and now having to pay an unknown rascal a huge amount.
In 10 minutes there was a message from Meena,” Do not worry.I am safe and on my way home. Could you eat anything? Shall I bring something?”
Kesav was waiting anxiously at the door and was jubilant when he saw her with a mask on her two wheeler. He hugged her happily as he led her inside living room.
She snuggled closer and said “Thank you for acting quickly to make things safe for me.” There was a smug smile on her face even as she was in his tight embrace  thinking of getting a good gift for her young nephew for his histrionic ability.